Knesset to hold special session on peace talks

MKs to convene Monday despite recess to discuss stalled negotiations and call for release of spy Jonathan Pollard

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, left, speaks with Economy Minister Naftali Bennett at a Knesset session marking 18 years since the assassination of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, October 16, 2013 (photo credit: Flash90)
Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, left, speaks with Economy Minister Naftali Bennett at a Knesset session marking 18 years since the assassination of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, October 16, 2013 (photo credit: Flash90)

The Knesset will return from its spring recess Monday for a special session on the state of peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

According to the Knesset website, more than 25 MKs requested the session, formally titled “The crisis in negotiations with the Palestinians.” The MKs will also debate “The failure of the government regarding the release of Jonathan Pollard.”

The peace talks ground to a halt over the past two weeks as the Palestinian Authority refused to agree to a US framework agreement for further talks beyond the April 29 deadline for the negotiations, and Israel balked at releasing additional Palestinian prisoners convicted of terrorism as scheduled in late March in exchange for talks that were not likely to continue.

Israeli ministers traded accusations on Saturday and Sunday, blaming rivals for the breakdown in the talks.

Israel’s chief peace negotiator, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, on Saturday accused Economy Minister Naftali Bennett’s Jewish Home colleague, Housing Minister Uri Ariel, of deliberately working to “torpedo” her peace efforts with the Palestinians, and intimated that the United States was over-involved in the process, while more time needed to be spent in direct Israeli-Palestinian contacts.

She also slammed PA President Abbas for breaching their agreed negotiating framework, and sounded far from confident that the ruptured talks could be rescued.

Ariel responded Saturday that the justice minister had “failed miserably and is now looking for anyone to blame except herself.”

“I would suggest to minister Livni to adhere to the advice of the sages – silence is a measure of wisdom,” Ariel said in a statement.

Still, peace talks could resume soon because both sides understand that this is the final opportunity to forge an agreement, a senior Israeli official told Yedioth Ahronoth Sunday.

The current impasse raises the possibility that the Americans could withdraw support for the peace talks, so ”we have to find a way to not end these negotiations,” the source said, adding that the possibility of freeing Jonathan Pollard, which was raised last week as part of a package deal to entice the sides back to negotiations, was off the table for the moment.

Since Wednesday, when the talks last stalled, there has been a flurry of high-level meetings aimed at restarting talks, but the ball remains in the Palestinians’ court, another senior Israeli source said. If the Palestinian Authority insists on the release of the fourth group of prisoners, intended as a confidence-building measure by Israel, there “will be a problem.”

The source called on the Palestinians to be more flexible, but added that “it seems impossible” that the Palestinians will back down on their demand for the prisoner release, which Jerusalem has refused to go through with.

The Knesset began its spring recess last month, and it is set to continue until the start of the summer session on May 11.

Gavriel Fiske and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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